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>> welcome to the heritage foundation. as director of lectures and seminars it is always my privilege to welcome you to the auditorium and of course to welcome those who joined on the speed website. we ask everyone to check cell phones to see they've been turned off and of course remind internet your questions can be submitted through out or comments at any time simply addressing speaker @ and we will post the program in 24 hours for everyone's reference. hosting this morning is joseph postell, the director of the assignment center for american studies. before joining the heritage in 2007 he taught political science courses at the university of dallas, where he is completing his doctorate in the american political thought and american political philosophy. in 2005 he was a fellow with the car-mart institute in california and is also a member of the american political science association. his master's degree bows from the university of dallas and
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politics and he earned his bachelor's and political science from ashlawn university in ohio. please join me in welcoming my colleague. joe? [applause] >> thank you. good afternoon. thank you for coming. it is fair to say that our country right now is at a crossroads. this is not the first time we have witnessed a massive expansion of government in pursuit of a progressive agenda. but it is the first time in over 40 years our government sought to expand and centralize its authority so aggressively. the good news is this offers an opportunity to return to first principles to assess where we are and where we are heading. today's debate bring us back to the perennial question our founders face. whether human beings are capable of governing themselves in an orderly way or whether government should take care by rolling over us.
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the last year has also brought a plethora of political hooks. but few of them so far have sought to articulate the basic principles which should guide through our present troubles. thus we are still confused about the palace the stand before us. the founders believe we can indeed governor ourselves but only if we make an educated and informed choice with an awareness of the alternatives. we know what one side has to offer but does the american public actually know the alternative vision? now with matthew spaulding's new book we still hold these truths. citizens and political leaders can read about the core principles that we must reclaim. if we are to head down the correct path toward liberty and constitutional government. dr. spalding is director for american studies of the heritage foundation. the center publishes popular essays and monographs on the first principles of the american
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founding and american conservatism. he also leads the heritage foundation's first principles initiative which seeks to establish renewed conservatism based on the principles of the american lumber. he is the author or editor of several books and served as the executive editor of the heritage guide to the constitution. please join me in welcoming matthew spalding. [applause] >> thank you, joe and everybody for coming. one of my favorite stories about the american founders is actually a small story i stumbled across in my research about a young man named levi pressed in of danvers massachusetts who is in his twenties when he fought at the battle of concord. and he was asked years later when he grew older in an
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interview by a historian who then wrote it down why he went out and fought the battle of concord. what was it that got him, this young man to go out and take arms against the strongest military of the world? was of the intolerable oppressions of the british government, was the stamp act? i didn't play any stamps, he said. how about the tax on tea? was that it? he said i didn't drink tea. it must have been all of your reading of harrington, law, said he and philosophical treatises. i never heard of them, he said. i only read the bible. the catechism and songs. what was it asked the interview? was was it that got you to fight against the british? young man, he said, what we meant in going after those
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redcoats was this colin quote we had always govern ourselves, we always meant to. they didn't mean that we should. barry simple answer to a very simple question. do we mean to govern ourselves? i think that is the question we face today. will we governor ourselves or will we be governed by increasingly on limited government that does more and more in our lives that is less and less responsible to our will and is taking us further and further not only into debt but into dependency. i believe we have come to an important decision for our country and that brings me to the book. i wrote this book for two reasons i want to chat about a little bit today. the first reason is that as a
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historian, and someone who loves to read about history it's very hard not to see, very plainly before us, that this country is absolutely unique. you see, every nation has some claim to its purpose, some unifying quality perhaps an ethnic character of common religion or shared history. but our country is very different. it was founded at a particular time and a particular place by a particular number of individuals on certain truths and untruths grounded in nature and said to be self-evident. those were enshrined in the declaration of independence in the constitution which meant that i was was a revolution of principle rather than a claim of will which is a case for every other nation prior to america as often ruled by force.
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this is what is revolutionary about america. you see it very clearly between 1763 and 1766 between the french and indian war and colonies became generally independent in the british empire and 1776 when they declared independence. this punishment and a very unique situation separated by an ocean having come largely in search of their who religious freedom shipped by british constitutionalism, learning to govern themselves were forced to think through certain principles , certain ideas about the source of the legitimacy of government and the source of their rights. they are forced to think those things as never before. and so they thought about the
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principles. the book is built around ten core principles. the first and grand principle is that of liberty, the overarching theme of the nation's history. but here i deliberately choose the word liberty rather than the word freedom. anything can be free, not just people. animals can be freed, a ball rolling downhill can be free but liberty is a term we only use for humans, for people. the inf liberty. a certain type of freedom, the freedom that is appropriate for the human person. i talk about three more after that, a quality, natural rights and consent of the government. these you recognize as the principles of the declaration of independence. the philosophical ground of the regime, the foundational principles that sets the court conditions that set the compass if you will about the rest of the nation.
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because about 40 quality and natural rights we possess as individuals prior to government the way to proceed through the consent of the government from which rises government. private property another principle, not only is the basis of our economic liberty but a core principal for our human nature. we have the right to the fruit of our labour and it is protected by the government protection of our property. religious freedom of thought and practice fundamental expression of the american liberty. this notion of american liberty but a means of forcing of religious expression because it is one of the highest things of man. the rule will fall, constitutionalism, framework of limited government, the architecture if you will that
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puts of these principles and to play under guards our liberty. but all of these principles then culminate, too. self-government. and here the founders meant it in two ways. one of the political sense, republican governance, governing ourselves as a people but also in the moral sense, governing ourselves as individuals, governing thyself and thus they meant the flourishing of character, feith, institutions of society. the last principle was that of independence which reflects the meaning of america's principles these principles that define the regime in the world, what it means to be a sovereign self-governing nation founded on truth. these principles i would suggest to you are america's heritage. they are what defines us.
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they are also the source of all of our prosperity and the blessings of liberty. and they are also the principles that have inspired the world. the second reason i wrote this book, the more troubling reason i suppose is that these principles i deeply believe are challenged in a way they have never been challenged before in our history. it's not that we have forgotten these principles. some bluffed and said we are suffering from national amnesia. that's not the case. it's important to understand these principles laid down by founders came under assault, intellectual salles, a political assault, cultural assault, and our schools and intellectual elites and politics and popular
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culture. this attack isn't new. something that's been going on 100 years or so. but it's deeply shaped our universities, our culture and political leadership. the argument was that we had to get over this attachment we had to principles. get around the constitution, go beyond of the declaration of independence. we see it first and foremost in what is called the progressive movement which my book also talks about at some of the length. talk about four broad areas where they change the core principles of the founders. first lady might there's no such thing as permit the truths. nothing there grew out of human nature. there is only relativism and they argued for a faltering rights and fundamental rights. everything changes and grows over time. whites, and rights go.
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they also argue the limited government restraints on government, the government was to be unlimited in principle. there could be no limits because there are no limits on anything that changes. nothing is permanent. third, rather than a decentralized america of civil society and institutions that shape us from the bottom-up they argued for a very strong and centralized national community. especially built around washington. and fourth, because you see the constitution as a barrier to where they want to go the road block a speed bump i guess we would say to -- today. they all argue for the living constitution. they couldn't get rid of the constitution although some of them applied they would sure like to. and some said it's difficult to change and a formal way. so instead they wanted to d
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construct and change its meaning to mean whatever they wanted, putting in new blood into a dead constitution to make it living. and they did all of this and argued for all of this in the name of progress. the great, open-ended and empty word progress. we see it most clearly in the time of the progressives in the early 20th century because they wrote clearly. we see it again in the new deal and again in a free society, and i would suggest to you that we are seeing it again today. there are differences between the various phases, those shifts that come back every so often like the great plague, but they all shared deep fundamental attachment to these and high principles if you will. rejection of the american founding, so now we are in a situation we have a new administration that wants to
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remake america. the election on the ground on the philosophy of change and equally on ended. at the year and we are now beginning to see what it means, massive spending, new regulation and very different relationship between the government and society and free markets. an argument about completing this transformation of the american political order has been going on for some time. ..
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if we step back and look at that especially in light of where we have been and what we have built in this nation that this is not progress. indeed, it is decline. it is a turn back to a failed statism of old. indeed, it is a form of feudalism. where we don't does possess core rights. we don't have fundamental liberties. we only hold those temporarily through the gift of the state. democracy in america that most famously warned this possibility when you combine a very strong centralized government with a deep-seated passion to make all things equal. he said this could lead to a new
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form of soft despotism. i think what he warned of, which is a situation where self-governing citizens become like children and the state is like the parent. precisely the situation we have to contemplate today. as a result for various reasons, one of which is the overreaching of the current administration, congress, we have come to a turning point. but also i would suggest a moment of great opportunity. one option is to continue down the current path, which is a path of decline, pure and simple. that is not what the american people want. there is another path. the path of rediscovering our
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core principles. what i call for, which is a great renewal of the principles. in our politics, yes, but also throughout our society. ec the current direction we are headed is not inevitable. there is that we have no other choice. this is where we are going. this is progress. it is inevitable that we go in this direction. but it is not. but, indeed, i would suggest what we are seeing today, precisely that the american people not only don't want that, don't think it is inevitable, but increasingly see that it is both alien and objectionable. the best option we have today, the only option i would suggest we have today is to reset our compass and change the direction of our country. i think we are actually seeing the first rumblings of this
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consideration in our country. signs of discontent throughout. we saw it in townhall meetings, t.e.a. parties, recent elections, but that is only the beginning. all that merely suggests is that we are now in what is called a teaching moment, a time for a moment when the american people are open to serious considerations about what their country means and more importantly, just as importantly where their country is calling. i've would suggest to you, that is something about which they are deeply concerned. abraham lincoln once said the truths of the american founding are applicable to all men and all times and thus they are a stumbling block to the reappearance of tyranny.
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most americans, though they are confused by modern politics and despite continuing reports that they only know very little about their history, despite that most americans, i would suggest, still hold these truths. they are not sure of them. they have been told over and over again that they shouldn't hold them as truth, that is. but it is still there. it is time to rediscover them a new, not by going back to the 18th century, but by looking at our roots, the routes which gave us this great country. we also want to rediscover them said that beacon reclaim them. only by understanding them and
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reclaiming them in a serious way can we do so in our schools and universities and politics and in courts of law. perhaps, most importantly i've would suggest, in the public square. we must reestablish these principles and constitutional governments so they will be, as jefferson once said, an expression of the american mind. in a world of great turmoil and confusion and arbitrary unlimited government i would suggest that the american founding, which is a grouping of ideas and constitutional arguments of the american founders is our best access precisely to the permanent truths and the best grounds from which to launch a radical questioning of the whole progressive project. and that, ultimately, i can only
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be done when the american people understand again the core principles that define them. people often ask me, when i speak about the american founders, how can i speak of them and their ideas when they are so old and so past? what is important for us to realize like many others look back centuries, we are not very far from our founding. think about it. i was born during the great society. my father was a child of the great depression. during the great depression the great supreme court justice of the day was oliver wendell holmes. oliver wendell holmes fought in the civil war. on the battlefield he met
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lincoln. when lincoln was a young man the president of the united states was john quincy adams. when john quincy adams was a boy in massachusetts he heard the gunfire at the battle of bunker hill. perhaps one of the greatest figures of that battle, another great and forgotten figure of the american founding is a man named joseph warren. in the context of the american founding you might recall the suffolk resolve. he is also the man who sent a horseman named paul revere on a very famous ride.
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he was very dedicated to the revolutionary cause. and when the british had been chased from concord back to boston, and the americans took position on bunker hill, a very weak position, though he was a leader in the colonial movement and had been appointed a general, adjunct general he went instead volunteered to fight defending that position. the british, of course, where wanting to have nothing with these rabble who thought they could fight off the greatest military power in the world. so attacked head-on through frontal assaults. the first time they did so they failed. you might remember another
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famous line which explains the american success, don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes. in the second assault the british also failed for the same reason. but in the third assault the americans had no ammunition. they had virtually no weapons left. they threw rocks and stones. the british overwhelmed the position. many americans escaped. one he didn't was joseph warren. the british knew who he was, and they immediately killed him on the spot. let me leave you with something he wrote a few months before he was killed. our streets are filled with armed men, he said. our harbors crowded with ships of war. but those things cannot
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intimidate us. our liberty must be preserved. our enemies are numerous and powerful, but we have many friends determining to be free. on you depend the fortunes of america. act worthy of yourselves. if history taught me anything it should teach us saving it is that freedom, liberty is very difficult, very fragile, and that american liberty will always remain an experiment. we must recall the truths of their fathers if we are to save our country. every generation of americans that challenged to vindicate the sacred cause of liberty.
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that is our noble task now. let us act worthy. thank you. [applauding] >> thank you very much, dr. spalding, for this very wonderful and personal remarks. we have some time for questions. i encourage you all to raise your hands. please allow the microphone to reach you, and identify yourself and your affiliation before asking your question. >> i will pick on people. >> i am an active researcher. you presented an excellent prescription of the past greatness of our country. however, i wonder if you can provide any specific alternatives to what we are doing now to change the period
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of decline that you indicate that we are in? >> well, my core message is that the key thing that we need to do first and foremost is to understand all the great policy ideas we might come up with, and there are many great policy ideas in terms of regaining control of entitlement spending which takes us into massive not subject, regaining control of how congress exercises its own powers and does not delegate to unelected bureaucrats. strengthening american defense, national security. there are many great policy ideas out there. we know what most of them are. but behind that in order to make all of those policy issues come together to an agenda to a larger than has to be a deeper recognition of the core
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principles that justified that the agenda in the first place. merely having a policy debate, and i say merely not to diminish the importance of policy debates. merely having a policy debate at the end of the day will not save the country. what we need to understand is that these particular policies we are debating must be understood in the context of what is at stake. american politics tends to turn on what we call realigning elections. a moment when there is a national debate about a particular issue. in that sense we do look for it to the policy. for instance, the debate over health care is opening of a great national debate about the role of government and such a large portion of the economy that deals with so many intimate and private aspects of our lives. who should make the final decisions about very important things having to do with
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ultimately life-and-death? that is a policy question. but what makes it into a potentially realigning issue, and i think the american people are beginning to realize this more and more, it's something beyond that policy issue is at stake which has something to do with these core principles and how we understand whether or not be given ourselves. a shorter, more practical answer, in my book actually do talk about some particular areas, especially in education, not only in terms of government's role in education, but in general what should be taught in classrooms. i used to talk a lot about things in our culture and society in congress and the constitution, constitutional sense of our courts, the kinds of changes and policies and particular things that could be suggested there in terms of getting control of government
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and getting it back in the right direction. we want to turn the ship. it's too soon to say exactly how many things we can pick off and go from there. if we can turn the ship, which means we have a critical ship movement back toward these ideas, i think we will be in a great place. >> how knowledgeable do you think our three most recent presidents are in understanding these principles. bill clinton, george w. bush, and barack obama? do you think they're examples should not be examples for the rest of us? >> i can't see into their
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hearts. [laughter] look, what we need to do is to take them at their word. not only the most recent presidents, but presidents, current political figures, but potential candidates for president. we need to take them at their word and see what they say. i, for one, am for taking them very seriously. bill clinton did not have much to say about serious principles in this way. he did have a very progressive bit about how he talked about america. he made a living on constitutional arguments. george bush rarely talked about the topic at all. indeed, if you look at recent presidents, and the study has been done. we have one on here at heritage. see how often presidents speak about the constitution and principles. recent presidents including president bush were very low in
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terms of those references. the current president actually talks a lot about these ideas and these principles, which is why i take them so seriously. it is not sufficient and a very bad decision on our part to merely set aside a rhetorical flourishes of the current president as meaningless rhetoric. he very clearly has said what he thinks. he has said that the constitution is a deeply flawed document, flawed to the extent that it ought not to guide our politics. he said before he became president that we need, in short, a new declaration of independence. he said right before he was elected that we were about to see a transformation of this country and we are going to remake america.
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those are his words. now either that means nothing or he is very serious about that. it is not merely how often someone quotes a founder, it is how they quote their ideas and think about their ideas and stand for them or not. i think barack obama is very intelligent. he has a mind to change this country in line with the previous progressive thinkers and phases of liberalism over the course of the 20th century. i take that very seriously. our job, i think, is rather than merely quoting a founder here and there, which is unfortunately what a lot of people do, is to think seriously about these principles and how they play in our politics. because we have got to be smarter every means ean to defed these things. i think we've got a lot of work ahead of us.
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>> i understand that, you know, we are at that pivotal point in american history, but you have to wonder that barack obama was elected by the people. this is a democracy. democracies are run by the majority of the people. so it looks like, to me, he might be the type of candidate that the people wanted. perhaps, we need to look into wind they e l e cted barack obama. are we really tired as american people of the old system? >> i think that is a great question. i would actually suggest that has not been decided yet. it is not to say or at all to suggest that the current president is somehow illegitimate. he was elected by a majority. but he was elected in what is easily said a change election.
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a lot of people wanted a change from the previous president for numerous reasons. he ran on change. he did not run on and lay out before the american people, which means we have not had a large national conversation about the types of things we are dealing with right now. the magnitude of the changes, not only the size of the spending, but the extension of the regulatory authority and governmental power over large segments of economics and potentially over our culture is such that i think we will have, which we have not had yet a serious political conversation about that that will play out in elections. that is an undecided question, which is why i, again, i think we are at a turning point, a tipping point. however, you want to call it.
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we are still largely a 50/50 nation politically. we have not decided which way to go. there has been a realignment, but we never realigned into a new order of things. the american people have not made that clear. i think when need to have a very open conversation about that. in that conversation i wish it to be a conversation not merely about a particular policy right now, not merely about a particular candidate. we need to have a conversation about what we stand for, what we believe. do those things still matter? does the old order still matter? and if not, where we going? where do we want to be? that strikes me as a very good conversation that have. and in that conversation i would like to hear what the american people have to say. my read on is that they have a lot to say. their instincts are very good, and we ought not to write them
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out. >> you relayed to yourself and oliver wendell holmes. it is kind of striking how there were only six generations. >> really only four generations when you think about it in terms of the connections. >> and then the story you began with, you mentioned the fellow really didn't study a lot of advanced thinkers. you took his inspiration from the bible. well, i took it your book could serve as a catechism for us in to these principles. it is a teaching tool and teachers speak in terms of scope and sequence. could you describe a little of the scope and sequence you had
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in mind in writing this book? >> first of all, a general comment about what you mentioned. two things that broadly i very much intended in undertaking this project. one is too often we think of history is history. nice, old things. that is oftentimes the way it is taught and the way it is presented and dealt with in our popular culture. but it is not tell. our history is part of us in a very deep and fundamental way. we need to realize that and telling our history through stories is a good way to do that. although i love history, i love to read about the arguments, the papers, the constitutional amendments, these are all
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extremely important. i did not mean to downplay the by using the story at the beginning. what i meant to suggest this is the president is clearly playing with his interviewer, what i meant to suggest by that is that it is not that complicated. you don't need to study greek and roman political philosophy to understand the dynamics of the american founding, which is to say that we can all understand it. we can learn it. we can rediscover it. there are certain core questions, and there are certain core things we can think about. brings me to my general point. i think that the most important thing to understand right now and to think about is to step back and see this grandeur debate. it is not really this administration, not the last two or three administrations. it is a large debate in america.
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indeed, i would suggest america, by definition, almost represents this debate. this debate between the great ideas of western civilization that play out the british constitutional and going back to the greeks and romans coming into the american founding. the great heritage, the christian west, arguments of government, constitutionalism, that is what america represents. we are now faced with an alternative, to turn away from those arguments in favor of something different, which is a very european notion of those same things. turning away from the heritage, looking to government as a source of legitimacy itself rather than the people. rights are not permanent things those are arguments that were
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brought into america by them going to study with europeans. went to germany, france, britain. step back and see the magnitude of the debate here and put it in that framework. it truly is a debate between the principles of the founders, which were not themselves perfect. they had flaws. all sorts of things going on. it's a debate between that world view and an alternative. the honest way to look at it as an historian, as someone who reads and understands and tries to learn these things is to look at it honestly and see what they presented. what were their arguments? why did they think that way? come to know them. when you come to know them then you can try to make provincial decisions about where we are,
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where we are headed, what we ought to do. it changes your perspective. and i think that is the best way to teach these ideas and teach the current debate, but also generally the current importance of where we are and what we may or may not stand for anymore. >> i will say, yes. i was a heritage fellow here ten years ago. i remember ten years ago the attitude here was one of i will almost say triumphant. it was a sense that we had won the cold war, which we had. the democratic principles were on the march. limited government, free-market economy was the wave of the
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future. and i think i believe that. and i think i also believe that certain fundamental questions were settled by our history in the cold war. and it turns out nothing was settled at all. all of our beliefs, we were all wrong about that. i wonder if this is something i had thought about. i'm wondering if you could elaborate on this. how did we miss read things so fundamentally ten years ago, so that instead of being on the offensive we find ourselves very much on the defensive today? >> that is a great question. well, one of the distinctions that would make would be the debate over the cold war and how the debate played out and was understood domestically. the cold war in many ways, indeed, was a mve

Book TV
CSPAN January 9, 2010 9:15pm-10:00pm EST

Matthew Spalding Education. (2009) Matthew Spalding ('We Still Hold These Truths').

TOPIC FREQUENCY America 14, Us 12, Oliver Wendell Holmes 3, Concord 3, Joseph Warren 2, Bill Clinton 2, Barack Obama 2, Bible 2, Dr. Spalding 2, John Quincy Adams 2, Dallas 2, Feith 1, Suffolk 1, Joseph Postell 1, Joe 1, Levi 1, Matthew Spaulding 1, Cted Barack Obama 1, Ec 1, United 1
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